ST. PETERSBURG — As if the gloomy economy weren't enough to put the average worker on edge, imagine hearing your potential new boss casually throw out phrases such as "top heavy" and "reduce costs."
With mayoral candidates Kathleen Ford and Bill Foster promising to slash wasteful spending and give overpaid bureaucrats the boot, top-level city employees are scrambling to update their resumes or bolster their job security before their new boss is sworn in Jan. 2.
The uncertainty has created a cloud of angst over City Hall.
Business meetings are ending in fits of tongue-wagging over who might lose their jobs. Department heads have had to reassure their employees. Council members are bracing themselves for the worst.
"It kind of comes with the territory," said Susan Ajoc, director of the city's neighborhood programs. "It's like, 'Okay, what changes are going to occur? Will I still be here or won't I?' "
With her frequent criticisms of City Hall, Ford, in particular, has caused anxiety among city workers, especially those who butted heads with her while she was a council member.
"My speculation would be perhaps her style and the expectations of some of the staff wouldn't mesh," said Deputy Mayor Tish Elston.
To be sure, every election cycle inspires apprehension at City Hall. But some employees said this election has been significantly stressful because of the economy and an unusually long election campaign.
In the months leading up to the primary, a few candidates went so far as to identify by name employees they would fire once elected.
Ford and Foster, both lawyers and former council members, have not named names.
However, both have vowed to eliminate the three deputy mayor positions. They've been vague about what that means. Will the deputy mayors be fired? Or kept on in a reduced capacity? Or are they just due for a job title change?
Ford and Foster also propose switching to some form of zero-based budgeting, which would require department directors to defend every expense, including salaries. The candidates have said this process will likely result in some consolidation and cuts, which seems to point to layoffs.
Ford, 52, said City Hall is "really fat at the top" and has promised to eliminate 16 positions, mostly managerial titles, to reduce city spending. She has refused to name the positions or offer specific details about which departments her plan will impact.
"There are 16 positions— not necessarily specific people, it's positions — and there may be vacancies elsewhere and new jobs, new positions that are created. But the goal is to really streamline," she said.
Foster, often labeled the status quo candidate, has been less critical of City Hall's spending. But he, too, has hinted that there might be too many overpaid managers.
Foster, 46, has stressed his administration will budget "needs over wants."
"I haven't identified 16 people who will lose their job," he said. But, "some (employees) will have a role and some won't."
Like Ford, Foster said he can't identify who he would fire because he needs to first sit down with managers and administrators to determine what changes need to be made.
However, he argued that Ford's criticisms of City Hall throughout the election suggest she has already made up her mind.
"In a way, I wish my opponent would be a little more candid," he said. "She obviously knows or is pretty predisposed as to who is going to lose their jobs."
Some city leaders agree.
Council member Karl Nurse, who predicts a Ford victory on Tuesday, said he is worried she will fire some of the administrators he has come to count on to enact his policy ideas.
He also predicted some employees will quit or retire because they find Ford too divisive.
"Lots of managers have told me they think they are on the list to be fired," he said.
City attorney John Wolfe said his subordinates quizzed him about his job security. Wolfe explained that he can be fired only with the approval of the mayor and council. He told his workers the City Charter gives him discretion over his staff's hirings and firings.
"They were reassured," he said.
Still, not everyone is worried.
Deputy mayors Goliath Davis and David Metz insisted they were not stressed about their employment.
"That is the prerogative of whoever wins," said Davis.
Rick Mussett, the city's development administrator, said he is prepared for whatever might happen.
"I don't worry about things I can't control and I just put my fate in God's hands," he said. "I keep my resume pretty current all the time. It is easier than having to scramble every five years."
Times staff writer Luis Perez contributed to this report.